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DSLR for Shooting Kids

David Loring , Nov 02, 2011; 03:44 p.m.

My sister has a 3 year old and a newborn on the way. Her Canon P&S Elph just broke; she dislike the camera because of how long it took to capture a photo (the old "by the time I pressed the button, I had missed the shot). So I need to recommend a camera to my sister that fits the following requirements:
(1) takes "fast" photos -- not FPS, but rather focuses quickly. (Likely that means a DSLR, which she is fine getting. The other option I suppose is a 4/3rds camera - like the new Nikon J released - but those seem like you are paying a premium for size and I really have no experience with them to make a recommendation);
(2) is easy to use. (the camera will be used in program/auto mode. Always. We can argue about how 90% of photography is skill - but my sister just isn't going to learn for better or worse);
(3) must be new; I don't think my sister has ever bought anything used
(4) I'd expect they will just want to use one lens -- the standard 18-55 that comes on most entry level DSLRs will probably be sufficient
(5) video is nice and I guess I can see them using it if the video is captured in a format that is easily playable on a TV or computer (they use PCs, not macs);
(6) live view - I can't see her using the viewfinder all that much on DSLR

As a Nikon user, my initial reaction is something like the D3100. I think it has live view; it's small; relatively inexpensive and I think hits all the requirements above.

Any other recommendations/thoughts?
Thanks for the help,
David

Responses


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JC Uknz , Nov 02, 2011; 04:04 p.m.

I suspect for the subject in question it is a more a case of which lens to fit the DSLR, any DSLR, with. Many suggest the 50mm f/1.8 to isolate the child from the inevitable clutter of the home while some suggest with good examples a 35mm or so fast lens. Certainly not the kit lens which is probably slow to start with and even slower as you zoom out. But working at these large apertures is a skill to be learnt and auto isn't going to help somebody used to a P&S.
Different cameras, different problems .... unfortunately ... no magic bullet.

Rob Bernhard , Nov 02, 2011; 04:05 p.m.

An entry-level DSLR with live-view is going to be slower to capture images than a modern point and shoot. If she is to own a DSLR, she should be encouraged to use the viewfinder.

Shooting video with a DSLR is unlike anything she will have done before. I would highly recommend you discourage this as a selling point. She will only be frustrated with the process and the results, especially with young children.

If her Canon point and shoot was several years old, I would recommend she look at the P&S market again. Coupled with the need for reasonably easy video capture, I think she might be surprised at how much has changed. Certainly, whatever you do, she should be directly involved including holding the potential purchases in her own hands (and while not tied to one of those insane security devices you see at the big box stores as well). Giving her helpful instructions like, how to use pre-focus when photographing children (by half-pressing the shutter button) can go a long way to reducing frustrations with shutter lag.

[[The other option I suppose is a 4/3rds camera - like the new Nikon J released]]

Just to be clear, the Nikon V1 and J1 are not 4/3rds cameras. They are mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, but they do not use 4/3rds sensors and are not part of the 4/3rds system.

Wouter Willemse , Nov 02, 2011; 04:19 p.m.

I wouldn't go for a DSLR, frankly. AF and using liveview at the same time takes quite a bit away from point (1). A lot of DSLRs have no or slow AF during video, so point (4) is not going to work excellently either. And personally (but this varies for everyone) I find the ergonomics of a DSLR not very suited for continuous liveview-handheld. They're just a bit too heavy for that.
Premium P&S cameras fill a lot of gaps, so the new Fuji X10, Olympus XZ1, Canon G12, Panasonic LX5 - they would probably do all of the above good enough. Else, NEX, m4/3rd or Nikon 1 sound more suitable. For point 1, the few user reports for the Nikon 1 cameras are very promising, the last Olympus Pen apparently also took a big step forward for AF speed.

Craig Shearman , Nov 02, 2011; 04:38 p.m.

I would go with a DSLR because of the shutter lag issue and AF speed but just let her keep it on program mode, where it turns into a big P&S. The kit lens has problems for serious photographers but since she just wants to shoot snapshots it should be fine for her. Don't worry about lens speed -- let her use flash. Do not point her toward a 50 -- she clearly sounds like a mom with a camera, not a photographer, and will think "bokeh' is that new Japanese restaurant at the mall. Live view -- please explain to her that the LCD on the back of a camera was meant for looking at photos after they are shot and was never intended as a viewfinder. You can't see any detail on an LCD at arm's length, especially in daylight, and having the camera bouncing around instead of up against the face makes pictures all the blurrier. Just about any $500 or so entry level DSLR will do, but I would stick with Nikon or Canon on the remote chance she gets serious someday and wants the widest range of lenses and accessories. And since you're a Nikon user, you might as well push her to Nikon in case you want to borrow the camera as a backup.

Frank Mueller , Nov 02, 2011; 07:39 p.m.

The shutter lag issue is no longer an issue with current P&S cameras. I am with Wouter, if you already know that the user is going to have only one lens, and will use the camera in full auto mode 99% of the time, a DSLR is the wrong choice. There is simply no need to carry around a big heavy camera - and pay the associated price - if you are never going to use the main features it offers.

Last X-mas I bought my Dad a Panasonic Lumix DMC ZS7. Shutter lag is negligible, the lens is awesome for such a long zoom, the 3" display is as good as it gets without an optical viewfinder, and the thing takes excellent pictures in "intelligent auto" mode. Video is better than in my T1i, which is part of the reason I also bought one for myself (now appropriated by my wife!). The camera has an HDMI output, and since most any flatscreen TV has an HDMI input, you can plug it right in via the included cable to watch photos and videos. Both are stored on an SD card in the same way as eg my T1i, which means I can use the same card reader (about $20). Many laptop PCs have such a card reader already built-in.

In short, it's a camera I can recommend wholeheartedly, and refurbished (read: as good as new but cheaper) it is available from $225 plus shipping via Amazon.

Mark Drutz , Nov 02, 2011; 10:36 p.m.

P&S, bridge cameras, and DSLR's all have their advantages. I would go with her to a good camera store (a big box store will do if you don't have a good camera store) and let her handle one or two of each. She may find that she likes one type more than another.

If she does go for a DSLR, I suggest sticking with Nikon which you are most familiar with. I have a D90 and a D3100 and I prefer the D3100. It's smaller, lighter, and has better image quality. I suggest skipping the 18-55 VR and getting the 18-105 VR if she can afford it. It has a much more usable focal length range.

I have a Canon A1200 P&S and a Fuji S2950 bridge camera in addition to my Nikon DSLR's. I find that the P&S and the bridge camera don't have the shutter lag that older models had, but they focus noticeably slower than DSLR's and they have a lag between pictures that DSLR's don't have. I think that for shooting active kids, a DSLR is still the best choice, but let her choose what she's most comfortable with.

Andrew Gilchrist , Nov 03, 2011; 10:39 a.m.

If you try any SLR with live view you'll see how it's not really up to the task of shooting moving subjects. The contrast-detect AF is just too slow when using lenses optimized for phase-detect AF.

It sounds like the Nikon 1 system was made for photographers like your sister. It's still very new and there haven't been that many reviews yet but it looks like it fits your listed requirements pretty well. It even has some modes that will capture full-res images at very high speed (maybe starting even before the shutter button is fully pressed?) and automatically select the sharpest ones.

That said, if your sister is willing to shoot with eye-level optical finder, a camera like D3100 will be cheaper and offer better image quality. I do expect that the Nikon 1 will offer faster AF, not sure about other causes of shutter lag.

David Loring , Nov 03, 2011; 11:20 a.m.

Thanks everyone for your responses. Very helpful. I was not aware, having never used it before, that the responsiveness of the "live view" function on DSLRs is slow. I'm not sure going the new P&S route is great; my sister has used my 1 year old P&S, which I consider decently quick, and found it slow to use for her taste. I'll try and drag her into a camera store here in Chicago. I like the idea of the Nikon 1 system for her; but telling her to spend $800 sight unseen is risky. Understanding that the Nikon 1 system is not a 4/3rds camera; regardless of the correct nomenclature, are there other "similar" types of cameras that one would recommend that somewhat bridge the gap between a full D3100 and a smaller P&S?

John Deerfield , Nov 03, 2011; 11:29 a.m.

(1) takes "fast" photos -- not FPS, but rather focuses quickly. (Likely that means a DSLR, which she is fine getting. The other option I suppose is a 4/3rds camera - like the new Nikon J released - but those seem like you are paying a premium for size and I really have no experience with them to make a recommendation);

Any camera needs contrast in order to focus. The lower the light levels get, the lower the contrast, the harder it is for any camera to focus. And to be clear, if you are indoors, you are in low light. A DSLR will allow you to use better lenses that will allow more light into the camera to aid in focusing in low light. But as others have pointed out, that benefit goes away if you are using Live View.

(2) is easy to use. (the camera will be used in program/auto mode. Always. We can argue about how 90% of photography is skill - but my sister just isn't going to learn for better or worse);

OK. But just keep in mind that I can't run to Sears, buy a set of Craftsmen tools and call myself a mechanic. I could even buy the best tools in the world, but I still couldn't call myself a mechanic. If you sister is serious about wanting better images, the first thing to improve upon is one's knowledge. Period. Otherwise, find out what her budget is and get the prettiest point & shoot you can.

(4) I'd expect they will just want to use one lens -- the standard 18-55 that comes on most entry level DSLRs will probably be sufficient

See my answer to #2! Why is the kit lens sufficient? It's economical for sure. Sufficient? Unlikely. As others have pointed out, a 50mm f/1.8 lens will allow over 8x more light through the lens to the camera than the standard kit lens. More light aids in focusing if nothing else. Knowledge.

(5) video is nice and I guess I can see them using it if the video is captured in a format that is easily playable on a TV or computer (they use PCs, not macs);

I am from the camp that if you want video, get a camcorder. Put if you want an "easy-to-use-all-in-one" device, I say stick with the prettiest point and shoot.

(6) live view - I can't see her using the viewfinder all that much on DSLR

Nothing to add. Live View on a DSLR will slower down focusing tremendously. Again, prettiest point & shoot.

Any other recommendations/thoughts?

It seems you might be more concerned about this than your sister! Make improvements to your system (knowledge, light, lens, camera) and amaze your sister with what you can do. If one isn't interested in improving, there isn't really much any of us can do to help.


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